Magazine article The Spectator

Radio War Diary

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio War Diary

Article excerpt

We've heard it all before - the misery that war wreaks on everyday lives - but Lina Sinjab's audio diary of her experiences in Syria took us right into the heart of what it feels like to be hounded out of your home, your memories, your sense of who you are and where you belong. Sinjab grew up in Damascus, her whole life has been lived there, but now she has left, forced out by the uprising. In Damascus Diary, produced by Nina Robinson (Radio 4, Monday), she recalled how at first the demonstrators in support of the government and against the rebels chanted 'Long live Assad', and 'Assad for ever'. Then their demands changed to 'Either Assad or nobody' and 'Either Assad or we will burn our country'. Now that's changed to, 'We will burn the country'.

When the fighting began, parents told their children that the sporadic gunfire they could hear was simply fireworks, and explained the pall of black smoke rising from the suburbs, 'It's just a chimney.' Now of course the children are wise to what's going on. They know instantly whether what they've just heard is gunfire, mortar shell, or multiple rockets.

This is what the uprising has so far achieved:

it's perverted the normal course of growing up, and in the process transformed a vibrant city into a desolate, dangerous place where a man on his bicycle out shopping for gas to fuel his family's cooking stove is shot dead by a sniper. It's all been destroyed so easily, says Sinjab, almost in an instant.

She talks to a 14-year-old boy who's meant to be in school but since its destruction by government mortar fire now works as a nurse in a makeshift hospital, set up to tend the wounded fighters of the opposition FSA (Free Syria Army). 'I should be speaking English to you by now, ' he says, but instead of learning the language he's looking after rebel soldiers with eyes torn out, limbs cut off, blood everywhere.

'It's scary, ' says Sinjab, as she struggles to carry on as if life was normal, setting up a barbecue on the roof of a friend's home and having a party while watching the snipers down below picking out their targets. She sees a tank close to the city centre, not parking this time but actually firing shells into the nearby suburb of Jobar. 'My family lives two streets behind that tank, ' she tells us.

As the writer Angela Carter once remarked about radio, 'It's the most visual of mediums because you can't see it.' It's also the most intimate. Sinjab's diary for radio gave us a much more vivid, almost visceral, connection with what's been going on in Syria than any TV news report. …

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